Believe in your idea — creating a start-up calls for a healthy mix of optimism and naivety. There will likely be way more reasons why you shouldn’t vs. why you should but have confidence in your ideas.
Startups have such a glamorous reputation. Companies like Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Uber, and Airbnb once started as scrappy startups with huge dreams and huge obstacles.
Yet we of course know that most startups don’t end up as success stories. What does a founder or a founding team need to know to create a highly successful startup?
In this series, called “Five Things You Need To Create A Highly Successful Startup” we are talking to experienced and successful founders and business leaders who can share stories from their experience about what it takes to create a highly successful startup.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Nick Mellios.
Nick Mellios has over 20 years of experience in the tech-start-up world. Nick is passionate about the digital transformation within the banking industry and creating solutions to promote financial inclusivity. This has led him to his most recent venture, founding BlocPal. BlocPal is a Canadian fintech company that focuses on making banking affordable and accessible in vulnerable communities around the world.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
Sounds great, I’m happy to contribute to this interview series. My name is Nick Mellios and I’m the CEO and Co-founder of Canadian-based global fintech company, BlocPal International Inc. I’ve been in the tech start-up space for about 25 years, and have been involved in multiple ventures within that time. After completing a BSc. In Mathematics and then an MBA, I landed my ideal job at Hughes Aircraft, which allowed me to combine my passions of tech and business. Building upon that experience, I started my first company in 1999 providing white label gaming solutions for Telcos and Cablecos. Over the past 20 years, I’ve built and scaled up technology companies across gaming, software encryption, back-office transaction management and payment processing.
What was the “Aha Moment” that led to the idea for your current company? Can you share that story with us?
I wouldn’t say that I had one “Aha Moment” but more so a few significant moments that brought everything together. I started learning about Bitcoin around 2012/2013 and saw how digital currencies and innovation in financial technologies could add value and address several challenges we face in business and society. The rise in global internet coverage combined with the popularity of smartphones also really got me thinking about how we could design our own blockchain-based platform to support enterprise fintech projects around the world.
After this initial thought, I had a discussion with my colleague and CTO of BlocPal, Vaibhav who helped bring more of the pieces together. Vaibhav shared a story of the severe hardships faced by farmers in rural India as they deal with ‘loan sharks’ who charge exorbitant rates. The lack of affordable and accessible financial resources creates an unhealthy dependency on these loan sharks. This conversation highlighted a massive global problem that we knew we had to solve. Everyone, no matter where they are born, should have access to core financial services at fair market rates. Ultimately, this led us to BlocPal, where we developed a platform integrating blockchain with classic banking-like solutions to make financial services more affordable, accessible, open and transparent. By doing this, we are able to aggregate multiple open-banking services for delivery to underserved communities all over the world.
Was there somebody in your life who inspired or helped you to start your journey with your business? Can you share a story with us?
I learned from my parents what a true hard-working entrepreneurial spirit looks like. Both of my parents immigrated to Canada from Greece and their work ethic and commitment to their children inspired a drive in me to be successful. They encouraged me to be a driven individual and always believed in me. They supported my business ideas no matter how far-fetched they may have seemed.
In my early 30s, I was fortunate to work closely with a mentor named Robert Dilworth. Bob served as founder and CEO to many innovative tech-based companies during the era when Apple and Microsoft were founded. Bob is known for being one of the pioneers and champions of the portable computer” (aka laptop) as President of Zenith Data Systems in the late 1980s. Bob was a very caring person from whom I learned a lot, especially about raising capital and how to work through business challenges. We shared the same level of enthusiasm for technology and business.
Being a first-generation Canadian gave me a huge amount of determination and discipline. I’m grateful to my family and Bob who played an integral role in my success and continue to be my pillars of inspiration.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
BlocPal’s strength and difference lie in its unique business model. We are not a vendor or supplier — BlocPal is vertically integrated with its enterprise partners. We bring the technology, the capital and the innovation roadmap while our partner brings local market expertise and go-to-market execution. Leveraging our highly scalable and flexible fintech platform, we design customized solutions to meet the unique needs of each market and its consumers. We are not trying to directly compete with the banking industry but instead, we work together with financial service providers to aggregate and deliver their services to communities in a manner that is more relevant, scalable and accessible. For example, there are approximately 900 million under-banked and under-served consumers in India. Through mBnk, and our business operations in India, we enable retailers in semi-urban and rural areas to provide micro-ATM and biometric-based banking solutions to their customers. Our mBnk web and mobile apps are designed with the end-consumer in mind, enabling a wide variety of financial services.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
BlocPal currently has partnerships in Canada, India, and Mexico. This is not a developing vs. developed world problem — this is a much larger conversation regarding financial inclusion, and BlocPal is tackling this issue head-on. Our financial solutions are focused on reaching marginalized communities making banking more affordable and accessible. For example, we’re leveraging local retailers in India to act as “mini-banks” while in Mexico we’re allowing retailers to offer easy air-time top-ups and bill payments This helps in fostering trust as well as providing financial services in areas that traditional banks can’t reach.
You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?
1. Be well rounded — as a CEO you’re in charge of steering the ship, but in order to do that you need to know how the ship actually works. It’s important for senior-level managers to understand the technical aspects involved with the business. You want to be able to participate in conversations even if it’s beyond your traditional area of expertise, so it’s key to have both breadth and depth in terms of speaking to different topics.
2. Perseverance — This can sometimes look like stubbornness but is a vital part of becoming a business leader. There will be challenges that seem to never end but you need to believe in your idea and keep pushing forward.
3. A problem solver — stemming off of the last character trait, when those challenges arise you need to find a solution. I did operations research and decision science as an undergrad and fell in love with solving real-world problems by turning them into a quantitative model. Our CMO, Sushant Trivedi, often says “a problem well defined is a problem half solved.”
Often leaders are asked to share the best advice they received. But let’s reverse the question. Can you share a story about advice you’ve received that you now wish you never followed?
Here’s some advice about taking advice — don’t do something just because one person said it. People will always have something to contribute, but ultimately you need to make a calculated decision yourself. It’s inevitable that you’ll make mistakes, just try not to make the same ones twice. I was told on a couple of occasions to hire certain individuals who looked great on paper, the reality is there is so much more to think about when hiring someone to fit in with the culture of your company. Look beyond the paper and try to connect deeper because it’s truly the people who can help take your company to where you want it to be.
Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard? What strategies or techniques did you use to help overcome those challenges?
Knowing the positive social impact that our team is making on society is really what gets me out of bed in the morning and pushes me through the 60+ hour work weeks. After successfully building multiple projects in DRM, games and entertainment, I realized that truly believing and caring about the projects that I work on is what fuels my drive and energy to overcome whatever obstacles head my way.
The journey of an entrepreneur is never easy and is filled with challenges, failures, setbacks, as well as joys, thrills and celebrations. Can you share a few ideas or stories from your experience about how to successfully ride the emotional highs & lows of being a founder”?
The journey of an entrepreneur is one like nothing I’ve ever experienced, it’s never a dull moment. Throughout every moment I allow myself to feel and work through all the emotions. No avoiding or compartmentalizing, just face them all straight on. I know that no matter how intense some moments can feel I will always have my team and family to help me.
Let’s imagine that a young founder comes to you and asks your advice about whether venture capital or bootstrapping is best for them? What would you advise them? Can you kindly share a few things a founder should look at to determine if fundraising or bootstrapping is the right choice?
Determining if fundraising or bootstrapping is the right choice really depends on the type of business and investment required to make the company successful. There is a balance to both. Showing that “the train is moving” and proving the business model, even in an early beta program, will help raise the capital.
Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. Many startups are not successful, and some are very successful. From your experience or perspective, what are the main factors that distinguish successful startups from unsuccessful ones? What are your “Five Things You Need To Create A Highly Successful Startup”? If you can, please share a story or an example for each.
1. Believe in your idea — creating a start-up calls for a healthy mix of optimism and naivety. There will likely be way more reasons why you shouldn’t vs. why you should but have confidence in your ideas.
2. The right team — surround yourself with the right people who believe in the value of your business as much as you do. If you understand the gap and hire correctly, your team can become like family. I’ve been with many of the same team members for the past 15 years through multiple ventures, and it helps create a strong foundation to grow successful businesses.
3. Capital — an obvious one that is critical to build your team and invest in product, marketing and operations. As you raise funding, it’s also critical to use it smartly and efficiently.
4. Tenacity — plan for problems to arise and fall in love with the problems first, then the solution. Remember it’s a marathon, not a sprint, you need to make sure you’re focused on the long haul.
5. Resiliency –not every swing will be a home run, but each hit (or miss) will be a learning opportunity. Remain resilient because there’s a lot to learn on your path to success.
What are the most common mistakes you have seen CEOs & founders make when they start a business? What can be done to avoid those errors?
Some of the most common mistakes that I have seen over the years are:
- Not understanding your weaknesses
- Not mitigating risk with the business model — it’s important to reduce dependencies or single points of failure
- Not having enough investment capital
- Not building the right team to help you
- Working with the wrong partners
It’s inevitable to make mistakes, it’s a given in the industry, but it’s important to use your resources and surround yourself with a good team who match your energy and understand and believe in your project.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I truly believe we are all created equal and everyone should have the right to education and financial services. One of my main goals when creating BlocPal was to promote financial inclusivity. I want to use technology to disrupt the traditional banking model in order to make financial services more accessible and affordable to everyone. Blockchain also represents an opportunity to provide financial technology in a more open, transparent and inclusive manner.
We are blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.
The one person that I would love to connect with would have to be Bill Gates. He is incredibly bright and successful. He has so much knowledge and experience regarding technology and altruism which is in line with BlocPal’s strategy leveraging fintech to support financial inclusivity.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
Check out our website www.blocpal.com
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this. We wish you continued success and good health!